Generating Critical Data and Methods to Support Nature-Based Green Infrastructure in Chicago Communities

Bioswale in residential area. | Credit: Guidon Designs
Urban area with green infrastructure. | Credit: Guidon Design
Green space restoration and maintenance in Chicago ©Sandra Steinbrecher

Delta Institute is working with community partners to install and monitor the impacts and benefits of nature-based Green Infrastructure projects in the BIPOC-majority Chicago neighborhoods of Washington Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore in concert with Emerald South’s Terra Firma project to develop replicable resources for communities throughout the region. Our goal is to streamline green infrastructure implementation, maintenance, and assessment strategy.


Why Our Work is Needed

Delta knows from our experience working in communities throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes Basin that climate and environmental problems are most acute in disinvested areas living with legacy issues. The BIPOC-majority South Side Chicago neighborhoods of Washington Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore are experiencing chronic flood events that are made worse by more frequent climate-impacted precipitation and failing stormwater infrastructure. These neighborhoods continue to lose tree canopy coverage while vacant and underutilized properties number in the hundreds. Underlying all of this is an ongoing recovery from systemic injustices that extracted wealth, prevented economic development, and limited important resources and infrastructure in these neighborhoods.  

Green Infrastructure can help communities manage their stormwater runoff, improve air and water quality, increase property values, and build social cohesion but a lack of implementation guidance and critical data often prevents it from being installed. Easily accessible data and information needs to be generated and distributed to demonstrate to community groups, elected officials, and municipal agencies that Green Infrastructure is a viable solution.


Brief Overview of What We’re Doing

Delta is working with community partners to install and monitor the impacts of four nature-based Green Infrastructure projects in the BIPOC-majority Chicago neighborhoods of Washington Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore in concert with The Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative’s Terra Firma project. We will offer learnings, best practices, and results with other stakeholders and practitioners to inform Green Infrastructure installation in other Chicago neighborhoods and throughout the broader Midwest. Following the installation of multiple Green Infrastructure sites, Delta will use the lessons learned to create a suite of resources to be utilized by groups in disinvested communities to create a streamlined green infrastructure implementation, maintenance, and assessment strategy. Further, the Metropolitan Planning Council will evaluate these sites for their StormStore stormwater credit trading program, offering another test-use and ROI opportunity for implementing Green Infrastructure.

This two-year project (slated to end in December 2023) will include close involvement with community partners, neighborhood groups, and residents to ensure community priorities are reflected in the final design of the four sites. Authentic and inclusive community involvement will be consistently incorporated into all quality-of-life and environmental planning. The lessons learned from this project will provide important insights into how this can be done effectively. 


Our Impact

Our goals and outcomes for this project include: 

  • Implement at least four Green Infrastructure projects on parcels/in areas that have been prioritized by the local community;  
  • Assess real-world effectiveness of different nature-based Green Infrastructure solutions versus modeled estimates; 
  • Utilize existing and new monitoring technologies to assess effectiveness and applicability; and,   
  • Streamline planning and implementation of nature-based Green Infrastructure to lower implementation and maintenance costs—thus making Green Infrastructure a more affordable and viable option for Environmental Justice communities to consider as part of their long-term quality of life planning. 

We will update this page as we implement the project to share accomplishments as well as offer ways for residents, community groups, and partners to engage with us. Please check in with us routinely as we implement this project with our partners, thank you! 



Delta Institute is deeply appreciative to the Walder Foundation, the Bank of America Charitable Trust, the McDougal Family Foundation, and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation for investing in us and our partners on this important and impactful project. Delta Institute would also like to thank our many community-based project partners for contributing their thoughts, experience, and acumen to our work:

  • Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative
  • Blacks in Green (BIG)
  • South Merrill Community Garden
  • The Field Museum
  • Metropolitan Planning Council
  • Numerous community organizations and residents

It is only through intentional and authentic collaboration that we all may achieve our shared project goals and success. We are deeply appreciative of the roster of partners and supporters who are collaborating with us to advance environmental outcomes in these vibrant neighborhoods. 

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